Court Clerk Crystal Phan called the court to order and introduced the Honourable Judge Gerald Morin as he took the bench. After months of preparation, the Crown attorneys were ready to present their case—and the accused finally had his day in court to present his defence against an assault causing bodily harm charge.
No one could fault you if you thought the lawyers looked a little young. The Doogie Howsers of the courtroom perhaps? No, these were Grade 7 and 8 students from St. Mary's Wellness and Education Centre—turned lawyers, witnesses, jury members, clerks and court reporters—having their big day in court.
It was all part of a mock trial at the University of Saskatchewan's College of Law on March 4. A team of volunteers—including lawyers and law students—spent a couple months with St. Mary's students as part of the Dare to Dream program put on by Level, a non-profit, charitable organization that levels the playing field and unites the power of people, education and law to create a more equitable and just society.
"It's something the students looked forward to every Friday," said Jennifer Altenberg, Gr. 7/8 teacher at St. Mary's. "Dare to Dream is a really innovative way to engage First Nations and Métis children in becoming part of the justice system and seeing behind the scenes. It becomes a really positive experience for many of the kids. Now they are thinking about things like becoming lawyers, or going to the U of S to go to the Native Law Centre, and being judges."
Crystal Phan, student-turned-court-clerk, said she was interested in being a lawyer before this experience and was "excited for the opportunity to see the whole process and what happens" in the make-shift courtroom.
After a short deliberation, the jury returned, the foreperson stood up and declared, "Not guilty," to the relief of the accused and his defence team.
A brief question and answer session with Judge Morin helped give more insight into the legal system. Judge Morin explained that he "has the best seat in the house to hear stories" and that objectivity and giving a fair hearing are fundamental to his role as a judge.
Before letting the students enjoy some pizza and pop, Brittany Twiss, executive director at Level, thanked all the partners and sponsors involved, "We're fortunate to have the support of Judge Morin, the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan, and the incredible legal community in Saskatoon."
Court is adjourned.
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